One of the things we like to do in our Trip Reports is to provide our thought processes and strategies with respect to all of our bookings. In a very limited sense, our readers may be able to replicate our booking strategies exactly to get great deals. But every trip for every person is different. So, more importantly, we hope that walking you through our thought processes and strategies will give you ideas and concepts that you can use to help with your own travel planning.
We thought it made sense to do this even for our “Paris in May” trip scheduled for this week that we weren’t able to take. Hopefully the strategies and booking processes that we used for this trip will carry over to a post-coronavirus travel world and be helpful for readers in the future. We’ll also touch on the “unbooking” process for each of our reservations as the coronavirus killed the trip.
If you’d like to review the full itinerary that we’d planned for this trip before you dive into the booking strategies, please check out our earlier article:
- Middle Age Miles: Trip-That-Wasn’t Report – Paris in May – Our Itinerary (May 21, 2020)
Flights Between DFW and Paris
Before we look at our actual flight bookings for this trip, it’s important to consider some of the factors that impacted our strategies and ultimate decision on how to book:
- We had to hit a narrow window on the timing of this trip, between other business and personal obligations – this seriously limited our flexibility
- We suspect that many readers find themselves in the same boat. And, of course, limited flexibility can make using program-specific miles very difficult.
- We’re spoiled and wanted to fly business class
- We have a strong preference for non-stop flights, especially in this case where our time abroad would be only a week
- It would be extremely helpful to have the flights count toward re-qualifying for elite status – and as DFW hub-captives, the most relevant and valuable elite status is Executive Platinum on AA
- This is currently irrelevant for me due to AA terminating my AAdvantage account. However, it’s still vitally important for Philly (maybe even more so in light of my termination so that I can get companion benefits when we travel together)
All of these factors pointed us toward booking paid fares on AA. Fortunately, we knew this in advance and could plan for it. In preparation, we stocked up on points that could be used for paid fares and still earn elite status credits – Amex Membership Rewards (MR) points, Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points, and Citi ThankYou Points (TYPs).
Our next major strategy consideration involved looking at all of our planned travel to Europe for Spring/Summer 2020 and figuring out how to book the entire collection of flights in the most cost-friendly and strategically effective way. Looking at the big picture, we were planning 3 trips to Europe during Spring/Summer 2020:
- May 16-24 – Paris
- Late June/early July – Spain & Andorra
- Late August/early September – Ireland
Given this travel plan, we looked to utilize one of our favorite strategies – booking round-trip tickets originating in Europe to save money on airfare (in this case, ultimately, to save Amex & Chase points!). We published a detailed article about this strategy last year:
- Middle Age Miles: How to Use Flight Tickets Originating in Europe to Save Money on Your Travels (January 21, 2019)
To do this, we’d book one ticket where the outbound leg would start our Euro travels (DFW to Paris (CDG) on May 16) and the return leg would end them (Dublin (DUB) to DFW in early September). In between, we could nest 2 round-trip tickets originating in Europe.
When we were booking, we also caught a bit of a sale on flights originating in Paris, which helped. This sale meant that we’d book our transatlantic flights for the Spain & Andorra trip to & from Paris, rather than Barcelona. Our plan was to purchase additional flights between Paris and Barcelona separately, probably for less than $200 per person in each direction including checked bag fees.
In the end, our airline tickets for the 3 trips looked like this:
Total cost per person for the 3 trips, for non-stop business class fares from an expensive departure point (DFW), was just under $9,300 (setting aside for the moment the fact that we paid for almost all of the tickets with points). We don’t have an exact number, but if we had booked the same flights with each ticket originating in the US, the fare would have been about $5-6,000 per ticket. We’ll conservatively say that the total fare for the 3 trips would have been $16,000 per person. That means we saved about $6,700 per person – $13,400 total! – by nesting Tickets #2 and #3 within Ticket #1 and originating in Europe on Tickets #2 and #3. On a percentage basis, the savings from this booking strategy amounted to about 42%.
Using Amex MR and Chase UR points to pay for our tickets (save for a $1,525 payment on Ticket #2 because (a) we didn’t have enough points in Philly’s account to cover the entire ticket; and (b) the purchase would help us complete a minimum spend requirement) allowed us to generate other savings and utilize certain card benefits:
- On the amounts we paid with Amex MR points, we received a 35% points rebate as a benefit of the Business Platinum card (which essentially gives MR points a value of 1.54 cents per point when redeemed for airfare)
- On Ticket #1, we received an Amex Travel “Insider Fare” discount of about 7% by using Pay With MR Points
- On Ticket #3, we received 1.5 cents per UR point as a benefit of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card
- A fair number of the points we used were generated through manufactured spend, at a cost substantially below the redemption value of the points; for example:
- We earned lots of Amex MR points through the +4x Sam’s Club Amex Offer during Fall 2019
- We’ve earned many Chase UR points by purchasing gift cards at Staples and Office Depot/Max during promotions on Ink Cash cards that earn 5x UR points at office supply stores
Finally, booking our flights using Amex MR and Chase UR points through their respective travel portals would have allowed us to earn miles and elite status credits on our flights. These 3 trips, plus a modest amount of other organic domestic flying, would have easily qualified Philly for another year of AA Executive Platinum status, which is extremely valuable. For me, I would have credited the flights to Alaska Mileage Plan to earn miles there and help qualify for elite status.
All of our hotels for the Paris in May trip were booked on points or free night certificates. We’d also be using our elite status benefits for some nice upgrades too! Here’s how we booked:
Nights 1-3 – Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace – Versailles
Last summer, we had the very good fortune of spending the last night of our Switzerland/France trip at the Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace in Versailles (WA Versailles). As we’ve mentioned in other articles, it’s only a few steps from the hotel to the Queen’s Gate into the beautiful and expansive grounds of the Palace of Versailles. Our one-night stay at the WA Versailles last year was so delightful that we vowed to return soon and spend longer.
We wrote about our stay at the WA Versailles and how we used Amex Hilton card benefits for an incredible experience there, in an article we published last year:
- Middle Age Miles: How We Used Amex Hilton Card Benefits for an Incredible Stay & Experience in Versailles (August 21, 2019)
Having enjoyed our previous experience so much, for our Paris in May trip this year, we decided to spend the first 3 nights at the WA Versailles, where we’d enjoy the luxurious hotel, morning runs around the lush Palace grounds, fantastic breakfasts, and the nearby town.
Our stay would encompass Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights. Paid rates were in the neighborhood of 300 Euros (about $330) for Sunday night and 340 Euros (about $380) for Monday & Tuesday nights. But we’d amassed some Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificates and a bankroll of Hilton Honors points from offers and spend on our Amex Hilton credit cards, including through the 2-card upgrade-downgrade strategy that we discussed in this article:
- Middle Age Miles: Our Amex Hilton 2-card Aspire-Surpass Upgrade-Downgrade Strategy – How Has It Worked? (August 21, 2019)
We chose to use a Free Weekend Night Certificate for Sunday night and Hilton Honors points for Monday and Tuesday nights. The certificate and points booked into a base-level “Pavilion” room. During our Summer 2019 stay at the WA Versailles, the hotel had given us nice upon-arrival upgrades to the top floor of the main building of the hotel, based on our Diamond status (as an Aspire cardholder). We were hopeful that they’d treat us kindly with an upgrade upon arrival again this time.
In addition to a potential upgrade, our Hilton Diamond status would get us a complimentary full breakfast buffet, served in the hotel restaurant’s bright and airy dining room, as well as 2 free drink coupons that we could redeem for a nice glass of French wine to sip on the patio (we received this benefit in 2019 and assume it would still be in place in 2020).
We were getting good, although perhaps not spectacular, value for our certificate and points redemption. As we noted earlier, the paid rate for Sunday night when we used our certificate would have been about $330. We’ve gotten better value from Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificates in the past, but there’s no way we’re complaining about that level of value or a free night at the WA Versailles! For the points nights, we redeemed at the standard rate of 80,000 Hilton Honors points per night for this property when a paid rate would have been about $380. That’s a redemption rate of 0.475 cents per HH point, which is slightly above our baseline value of 0.45 cents per HH point. The value was solid, especially given that we have a nice-sized HH points balance and plenty of opportunities to earn more HH points through spend on our Amex Hilton cards.
Nights 4-6 – Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris
For the rest of our week in Paris, we planned to move into the city. We wanted to get our first-ever taste of the darling of all city-based hotels available on points, the Park Hyatt Vendome (PH Vendome).
We’ve walked past the PH Vendome during a previous visit to Paris, and it’s certainly located in a good place, within easy walking distance of the Louvre and the Champs Elysees, among other interesting Paris landmarks. The neighborhood is quite ritzy, and it’s just a few steps away from the expansive Place Vendome, which includes a statue of Napoleon atop a memorial column. Tiffany is across the street from the PH Vendome, and the neighboring square includes Van Cleef & Arpels, Chanel, Patek Philippe, Dior, Rolex, and Louis Vuitton.
The PH Vendome is a Category 7 hotel requiring 30,000 Hyatt points per night. The best paid rate for a base room at the hotel during our stay was about 650 Euros (roughly $715) per night. At that rate, we were getting almost 2.4 cents per Hyatt point in value, a great redemption that’s well in excess of our baseline value of 1.5 cents per Hyatt point.
But our deal got even better. As a result of hitting the 50- and 60-night thresholds with Hyatt during 2019, we earned 4 suite upgrade awards. Each award is good for an upgrade to a standard suite for a single stay of up to 7 consecutive nights. The upgrades can be confirmed in advance, which is far better than a space-available upgrade upon arrival.
We were able to redeem an award for an upgrade to a Park Suite, the PH Vendome’s standard suite. The paid rate for a Park Suite during our planned stay was about 900 Euros (roughly $1,000) per night, further increasing the value of our points redemption.
In addition, our Hyatt Globalist status meant that we’d also receive complimentary full breakfast in the hotel restaurant. We’ve heard reports that the hotel also allows the breakfast benefit to be taken as room service. Universally, those who have stayed at the PH Vendome rave about the breakfast offering as one of the best.
Sadly, of course, we didn’t get to stay at the PH Vendome, so we can’t comment firsthand on the property or an experience there. However, Kyle of Live And Let’s Fly recently published a nice review of the hotel with some good pictures of the property and a Park Suite:
- Live And Let’s Fly: Review: Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome – Suite (December 15, 2019)
In sum, the combination of Hyatt points plus Globalist status including suite upgrade awards is a very powerful one indeed. We never would have paid $1,000 a night out-of-pocket for a suite at the PH Vendome, but using points and benefits we would have enjoyed this great luxurious experience and probably remembered it for a lifetime.
Night 7 – Hotel du Louvre, Paris
For the end of our week in Paris, we planned to move to the Hotel du Louvre for 1 night. The Hotel du Louvre is part of Hyatt’s Unbound Collection, a group of boutique hotels under the overall Hyatt banner. It’s a Category 6 hotel, with a standard points redemption rate of 25,000 Hyatt points per night. As the name suggests, it’s very close to the Louvre, so it’s extremely well located within the city.
You may be wondering – Why didn’t we just stay at the PH Vendome for our last night? The reason was an availability problem. The PH Vendome was almost entirely sold out for the last night of our week in Paris (Saturday, May 24). A paid rate was available for $1,000+ for the night. We didn’t think that made sense. In addition, the suite upgrade wouldn’t have been available for this last night even on a paid rate.
A few other factors helped ease our decision to swap hotels for our final night in Paris:
- We had a Category 1-7 free night certificate that was close to expiring. We could use the certificate for this 1 night at the Hotel du Louvre.
- It actually would have caused a problem to use the certificate during our PH Vendome stay.
- Hyatt suite upgrade awards cannot be applied to nights booked on a certificate (why Hyatt has this distinction between nights on points and nights using a certificate, we have no idea – but that’s the rule).
- If we used the certificate during our PH Vendome stay, it would have messed up our confirmed suite upgrade, and we would have at least had to deal with the possibility of changing rooms during our stay.
- The Hotel du Louvre is only a few blocks from the PH Vendome, easing the inconvenience of changing hotels.
- We would have enjoyed checking out a different, nice, and historic hotel, and it would have given us one more thing to review and share on Middle Age Miles!
So, we used our Category 1-7 free night certificate to book this last night of our Paris holiday at Hotel du Louvre.
As noted above, we couldn’t apply a suite upgrade award for this night, but as Globalist we could have received a space-available suite upgrade. At the time we booked, it seemed promising that a suite would be available for this one night stay so that we might be upgraded. We’d also receive complimentary breakfast as Globalist.
A paid rate at the Hotel du Louvre on this night would have run about 450 Euros (roughly $500). That would have been an excellent use of our free night certificate. And if we had used 25,000 Hyatt points instead of the certificate, the redemption value would have been about 2 cents per point, well above our baseline value of 1.5 cents per Hyatt point.
“Unbooking” This Trip
Hotels were easy to unbook for this trip, as all of our reservations were fully refundable, even prior to coronavirus-related customer-friendly cancellation policies taking effect. All points and certificates were refunded to our accounts easily and quickly with a few clicks online and an email to our Hyatt Globalist concierge.
The airline tickets were somewhat more difficult, though. Having nested tickets meant that our trip cancellations didn’t match up with our airline ticket cancellations. If some but not all of our trips cancelled, we’d need to re-ticket the missing segments. For example, as soon as it we knew that we wouldn’t be able to travel to Paris in May, that meant that we’d be cancelling Ticket #1, leaving us with no flight home from Dublin in September if our Ireland trip stayed on-calendar. It turns out that the potential problems from having nested tickets didn’t materialize, as we won’t be going on any of our 3 planned Spring/Summer 2020 European trips. But this could have presented a significant challenge.
It also added additional layers of difficulty to “unbooking” for our flight tickets to be booked through the Amex Travel Portal using Pay With Points. Upon cancellation, we had to work through Amex Travel, when it would have been easier to deal directly with the airline with respect to refunds.
Another factor was that we needed to wait for our flights to be officially canceled. If the airline canceled our flights, we could get full refunds. But if we canceled the flights ourselves, we could only receive airline credit (albeit without incurring change fees under AA’s Covid-19 policies). Not surprisingly, we greatly preferred getting a refund over receiving airline credits!
Once our May 16 DFW-CDG and May 24 CDG-DFW flights cancelled, we called Amex Travel to start the refund process on Tickets #1 and #2. At the time, there was substantial uncertainty about how, when and whether tickets would be refunded, even for cancelled flights. In fact, on our first call, the initial Amex Travel agent thought we would incur a fee of several hundred dollars if we canceled. Between this initial agent and follow-up with a very helpful supervisor, our call with Amex Travel took 1 hour, 25 minutes. By the end of that call, our flights were canceled, but it was still uncertain whether we’d actually receive a refund.
The next step was to submit requests on the AA refunds website (prefunds.aa.com). We waited anxiously for a response. It took about a week for AA to respond, but the news was good – AA confirmed that we would receive full refunds. Once we received that message, the refund credits appeared on our Amex cards within 2 business days.
Then, the final step was to call the Amex Membership Rewards team and get the refunds converted back to MR points. We called the customer service number on the back of the card used to “pay” with points and asked for the Membership Rewards department. Fortunately, the MR re-deposit process was relatively easy, requiring a call of only 10-15 minutes. The MR points were re-deposited into our Membership Rewards accounts immediately (net of the 35% Business Platinum rebate).
[UPDATE to original article – In the Comments, Paul very insightfully noted that it sounded like we could have effectively “cashed out” our MR points for 1.54 cents per point. That would be an enticing proposition, for sure. However, we’re pretty sure based on past experience that what would have happened after we received the “statement credit” refund is that Amex would have then clawed back the MR points we received from our 35% Biz Plat rebate. That would have left us with an indirect “redemption” of MR points at 1 cent per point. For us, that would have been a bad result (although we can see how some people wouldn’t have been too upset with that result given the current virus and economic climate). It wasn’t worth taking any chances in our book. We certainly didn’t want to be stuck with a redemption of hundreds of thousands of MR points at 1 cent each.]
The “unbooking” process for Tickets #1 and #2 all went well, but it was not without some anxious moments.[As an aside, we’re still in a holding pattern with respect to Ticket #3. The flights for both legs of that ticket – CDG-DFW in early July, and DFW-DUB in late August – are still scheduled as of today. We’re hoping that the July CDG-DFW flight will cancel when AA updates its flight schedules this coming weekend. Ultimately, if neither leg cancels before the departure date of the July CDG-DFW flight, we’ll have to cancel the ticket ourselves and receive AA airline credit for the value of the tickets rather than getting our Chase UR points back.]
We really enjoy the travel planning process – working to create the best experience for our trips while making the best of the points, miles, benefits and discounts available to us. On our Paris in May trip, a lot of things had come together for a great trip, all booked with points and free night certificates (save for a modest cash payment on airline Ticket #2). We were disappointed that our planning was all for naught (understanding, of course, that the world faced much bigger problems than our canceled holiday!).
Hopefully we can all book new travel adventures and make the most of our points and miles again soon. For now, we hope this article provides you with some insights and inspiration for those future travels!
What are your thoughts on our booking strategies for this trip? And what are your experiences with “unbooking”? Please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!
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